My ‘Other’ work 5


In yesterday’s post I mentioned my embroidery, and realized I hadn’t taken any pictures of most of my ‘other’ work. So I went around with my camera and snapped a few shots and thought I’d share them with you. Now these are just some of the pieces I’ve had framed, and I’ve got more than a dozen rolled up and stuck in a box, yet to be framed, poor things. (Framing is cost prohibitive, rarely do I get out of the framers for under $200, considering you need acid-free matting, the fabric’s got to be stretched in a very specific way, and I ask for museum quality glass that’ll protect the fibers from UV damage. (You don’t have to put it behind glass, but I do because I live in a houseful of males that regularly have ‘sock ball contests’ , and we won’t mention spiders and dust, so I want to protect work that has taken hundreds of hours to complete.) And as I was writing this, I realized it’s turned into a Thursday Thirteen.

This is one of the first ones I did ‘way back when.’ I put it in the upstairs hallway between the two boys’ rooms. I’d actually forgotten I’d done it until I went looking. I worked on it so long ago, that I can’t remember how long it took, but I think it was only a couple of weeks. It was tough trying to take a photo straight on because of the flaring of the flash … but underneath that bright light is the Guardian Angel prayer as you can probably tell.

The violin picture is in my Youngest Son’s room since he played violin for six years. One of the differences between this one and the one above tells me how I was progressing as an embroiderer – the one above is done on AIDA fabric, which is almost like a canvas with very obvious threads of 14 per inch. The violin however is done on a linen where the threads are not always even, and are between 28 – 40 apart. (this is a 32 count, if I remember correctly.) Although this is a little misleading because when working with linen you usually work ‘over two’ threads so working on a 32 count linen means you’re sewing 16 stitches per inch. (or 256 stitches per square inch.) I do have a picture that I did ‘over one’ which leaves you with a lovely miniature. And then there’s petit point which is done on a silk gauze and is usually done with half stitches at 40+ stitches per inch. For that you need a magnifying glass.

The Victorian house to the left is another early effort done on Aida. It’s over the mantel of my fireplace in my family room. The ‘shadowy’ far off sections are created by using a half stitch which look like / . The rest is done using cross-stitches which form X’s. This was one of my biggest pictures I’d done to date. and is about 10 x 12. I started it one New Year’s Day and worked on it and nothing else for four months then got so tired of it I put it down and worked on something else for a month. When I picked it up again, it seemed to just fly and finished within two weeks. Perhaps I should remember that for the question I asked on yesterday’s blog of how to juggle various writing projects…

If you’re writing a historical where your heroine embroiders, be aware that embroidery can be a very s-l-o-w process. You cannot ‘rush’ embroidery – though some sewers are quicker than others. I’ll blog tomorrow about the various types of embroidery, and what equipment I use.

You don’t have to do all fancy-shmancy designs. The Warthog to the right was done when Guitar Hero was in the Air Cadets. I also did the Air Cadet crest, but couldn’t get a decent in-focus picture of it. Again it’s on Aida which works a lot faster than linen, and I finished it in six days. It’s not behind glass, and is self-framed (I took a course on how to professional stretch the linens. Plus it’s in Guitar Hero’s Bedroom – I don’t even want to think about what goes on in there!)

This is a design called Celtic Christmas by Marilyn Leavitt-Imblum of Lavender and Lace designs. One note – I adapted the design, above the lady’s head should be the word NOEL but I wanted to hang this picture year round and not have it be a specifically Christmas picture. The outside frame of this is done mainly in glass beads which believe it or not worked up really quickly. The lady herself took six weeks to sew, but there was a real flow, so I didn’t feel like it took any time at all and immediately went on to another of Marilyn’s work. The gold in the dress is done with metallic threads and seeded with gold beads, the candles on the wreath (that didn’t show up in the photo unfortunately) are also topped with beads. Yup, those of course cost more than regular cotton but the effect is stunning the way it shimmers and sparkles. There are three more designs that I own, but haven’t yet sewn – one for each season. One day I’ll get to them – having all four grouped together would be a spectacular conversation piece for my living room.

This one is another MLI picture called Angel of Peace. It was designed during the Gulf War of 1991, so the angel wears the ‘yellow ribbon’ in memory/honor of the troops. Both this picture and the one above are quite big – about 12 x 18. While Celtic Christmas took me only six weeks to finish, for some reason this one didn’t flow as quickly and took me close to a year. Because of their size, both pictures cost me nearly $400 each to frame, plus the Angel of Peace has a lovely blue matt around it that I cropped out for this pic. The harp she’s carrying has real gold thread for its strings, by the way.

And here’s another MLI picture – from her Told in a Garden collection – it’s called Raspberry Homecoming because although this photo’s too small for you to see it, the people are picking raspberries from the bushes. (The design called for the title to be stitched below it, but again I made another executive decision and didn’t put it in because I didn’t think it added anything to the design.) This one is done one-over-one. So there are 784 stitches per inch. I do have another one along a similar vein, but I gave it to my mother as a present since she’s big into quilting.

Now you’ll start seeing a difference in my work – I got bored with straight cross-stitch and started branching out into specialty stitches. This is the one I posted on yesterday’s blog and is called Renaissance Lace. It was a course I took, taught (and designed) by Thea Dueck of Victoria Sampler. (Sewing people are similar to writers – we have conferences and retreats and online courses as we compare techniques and designs.) Renaissance Lace is about 8 inches square, and involves a type of sewing called Hardangersom (though most people call it simply Hardanger) where you must cut the threads and bind what’s left up, then do ‘needle sewing’ to create lacy patterns in the holes. Believe it or not, for all the intricacy of this pattern, it only took me three weeks to finish. And it’s one of my favorite pieces.

Historical writers should note that this type of work was done by the lower classes as they weren’t allowed – and couldn’t afford – lace like the upper classes could. So the maids used this form of embroidery on their rougher skirts and blouses and aprons to make them look fancier. Instead of using a thinner cotton thread, you use ‘perle cotton’ which is much thicker, and frankly it’s much easier to work with. And the fabric is a 22 count Hardanger fabric that’s quite sturdy and a pleasure to work with. And as you’ll see on the left, you can make doilies and table runners using the technique. This one took me less than a month to make, but considering I live in a houseful of unappreciative men, I hesitate to put the time and effort into something that will have tools and all manner of ‘who knows what’ on top of them. Mainly I make them for friends and give them away – because they’ll probably be treated with more respect than they would by Gizmo Guy and the boys.

Here’s another of Thea’s designs – this one’s called Gazebo Roses. The entire thing is shown on the right – it’s quite big (about 18 inches long) so the photo on the left is a close up of the middle. Notice how the designs are no longer pictures but Samplers – each line a different type of stitch. Back in the ‘old days’, girls used to learn how to sew by sewing samplers, then they graduated to table runners and doilies, and then onto more useful work. My mother was taught embroidery as a subject in school, along with math and spelling. So even if you’re writing a World War II story, your heroine would have been taught sewing in school, not just your Regency heroine.

The Gazebo at the top is done with silks, the roses are with silk ribbon which has fallen out of favor these days. And the flowers (stylized tulips) beneath the ducks are done with an overdyed silk which means that it has several colors to it, so each flower has a different look. The bottom section is another example of Hardanger, though this time Thea has added some beads and ribbon embroidery to adorn it.

I love working on samplers because they work up much quicker than cross-stitch – I can get several lines done in a few hours of sewing where cross-stitch may take me an hour or longer per a square inch. The pulled thread embroidery takes a bit longer, especially if the linen threads decides to fray. When you cut the thread for the open work, you have to weave it back through the threads on the side and make it appear invisible. It’s an art in itself and can occasionally the air will turn blue as I curse and swear while I try to get the threads to sit properly, but the end result is beautiful.

Frosty Morning is designed by a lady named Patricia Anne Bage of Chatham, England. I met Patricia while we were taking the Renaissance Lace on-line course, and discovered she’d grown up in the same town as my parents, and her brother lived in the same tiny village that my great-aunt did. When I went to England in 2000, she picked me up in her car and drove me around to Charles Dickens’ house, and past Rochester Castle and Rochester Cathedral, and took me to her sewing guild. And then at the end of the day let me choose whichever pattern of hers I wanted. Frosty Morning is absolutely GLORIOUS – the picture doesn’t show it, but Patricia used a lot of silks and metallic threads and beads that absolutely sparkle in the light. Believe it or not, this only took me six days to complete.

Starflake is another by Patricia Anne Designs. And this one had me cursing a blue streak, especially since Frosty Morning had been so quick to complete. The reason is most embroidery is done in lines, but this one is done in a circle. Which meant I had to count and recount threads to get each and every stitch in exactly the right place. I can’t tell you the number of stitches I had to ‘frog’ (that’s a stitching term meaning ‘to pull out your stitches’ … why’s it called ‘frogging’? Because you have to ‘ripit’ out of course!) Again, lots of shiny silks, and sparkly beads. But now it’s up, it’s also one of my favorites.

There are those advocates for sewing who say that if you go by a pattern such as I have with all of these, you’re essentially doing a ‘paint by numbers’. I challenge anyone to sew Starflake and claim that sewing is simply a ‘paint by numbers’ exercise. In fact very few of my works turn out exactly like the original design – like Noel and Raspberry Homecoming, I make adjustments. Sometimes it’s in a specific color, or a textile change – from cotton thread to silk, or I’ll add beads if I think it’ll add to the pattern.

And finally a much smaller example – it’s probably not more than about four inches across. I have a ton of Christmas ornaments like this – all glittery with metallic threads and beads, each different, this is one of about three various snowflake designs. These take usually no more than a day or two to create. But then they generally sit on my sewing table waiting for me to get inspired to actually bind them in a hangable form. Because for some reason, though I can do this lovely embroidery that is so delicate, actually sewing – as in joining two pieces of fabric together, doing seams, etc. absolutely befuddles me. Go figure!


5 thoughts on “My ‘Other’ work

  • Sue L

    Leah, I’m astounded. I’ve always heard you talk about the work and never doubted the quality, but these are absolutely amazing. The Victorian house with the shaded trees and the women in the red dress are my favorites. … and the angel … and .. LOL!

    I’m looking forward to your next posts about needlework, I think there are a lot of details here that (besides being fascinating) will be very helpful to authors. I know as a reader I always appreciate attention to details. It seems to layer in depths of believability that keep me anchored in the story.

  • Catherine Wade

    My mother cross stitches, and I have many beautiful things from her. I didn't inherit the gift.

    She made the Angel of Peace you have there along with three other angels and they come out every Christmas.

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